I remember seeing chard mentioned on Masterchef increasingly frequently and assuming it was about to become the next go-to-food-twat ingredient taking the supermarket by storm. That was a while ago, as it’s been at least two years since I have paid any attention to Masterchef and I am still yet to recall a single incident of seeing actual chard to buy in a shop anywhere, though I think I have had it perhaps twice in restaurants.
Obviously there is a seasonal issue here, but chard has a pretty long growing season potentially from spring to autumn in the UK so we can’t just blame that. It is also tasty, potentially attractive to your plate and has a superheroic nutritional profile. So what is our problem with chard!?!?!?!
First to address is the above mentioned issue that you don’t see chard about much and thus a ton of people don’t know what it really is. Who is that adventurous about green leafy veg they don’t recognise? Not many people. Thus no one to sell it to. Thus no one sells it. The circle of consumerist life. So what is it? Well I can tell you it is basically a big old leaf from the same family as beetroots and spinach, that grows much in the same way as a lettuce but is frankly a lot more robust in both texture and flavour. Young leaves are tender and can go straight into a salad, like most veg chard will retain the highest levels of nutrition when raw. Speaking of nutrition: 100 grams of raw chard will set you up with over a day’s worth of vitamin A requirements (to see in the dark), half your recommended vitamin C (which the body can’t store so you need to consume frequently) and 10, yes TEN TIMES the scientifically complicated daily volume of vitamin K that clever people in white coats think you should eat. Who cares? Women facing the menopause should, as vitamin K plays a big part in bone health. Nutritional (i.e. eaten) vitamin K is also known to play a role in inhibiting arterial calcification associated with heart disease* so if you have a heart or arteries, you should probably get plenty of it in your diet.
Older, and bigger, chard leaves are more bitter than the tiny wee ones thus more likely to be cooked in the same fashion as inexplicably trendier but not dissimilar kale. Like kale, chard doesn’t need a huge amount of cooking and tends to be shredded and added towards the end of the process of whatever you are rustling up in the kitchen. Chard is also much better at keeping it’s form when cooked and you can enjoy the stem as well as the leaf, unlike bitty annoying kale and its chewy horrid stems. The fact that it only need a short time to cook helps to maintain those lovely vitamin levels too** Not all of us like the bitter end of the taste spectrum, but if you find yourself cooking for oodles of children or indeed my own mother, you can sneak some chardy goodness into stews and bolognesey dishes by cutting it up very finely or add it to blended soups for some stealth nutrition. However if you take your coffee black and your chocolate dark, chard is quite wonderful as a vegetable in it’s own right, very quickly sauteed and stacked up alongside some red meat and a bit of gravy or shredded into a Spanish omelette. Raw vegan types might chuck it into a lurid smoothie for extra smugness and additional Instagram followers, and dinner party hosts and unicorn trend fans can seek out pretty old rainbow chard for extra photogenicity too.
There is a lot you can do with chard, and it is really good for you, so why the eff can’t you buy it anywhere?!?!?!?!?!
Actually along with the aforementioned lack of demand, it has a cruddy shelf life. Proper cruddy. But this shouldn’t stop you, as I have kept the Mr and myself in chard since this May with a simple planter box on our patio. As Grow Your Own veg goes it is incredibly easy to cultivate, needing partial sun, watering and the odd feed when they first start to sprout. You may have some interest from aphids and fleabeetles but there are many simple and organic pest control sprays that will fend these little buggers off (just don’t spray it near anything flowering and don’t eat within 2 weeks of a spray!). If you plant late march/early April you should be able to harvest your chard from May, and if you stick to snipping the outer leaves one plant will continue to grow for the whole summer. If you are very lucky more established plants will recrop even if you completely strip down to half inch of growth at the base. They will grow on a balcony or a well lit windowsill so come on people, grow some chard!
And eat some chard. Which is exactly what I am about to do with some scrambled eggs and a cheeky Sunday crumpet.
*thanks Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_K
**for cooked nutritional info look here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chard